Bob Schwartz

Tag: Marco Rubio

Saturday Night Political Comedy and Science Fiction

Manchurian Candidate

There were two moments of comedy from Saturday night politics, one spontaneous, one planned. And a weird science fiction scene in between.

Comedy. The chaotic opening of the Republican debate was described by Politico as a “train wreck.” But a really funny train wreck:

As Gov. Chris Christie walked out on stage, moderators David Muir and Martha Raddatz called out Dr. Ben Carson. A camera backstage showed Carson starting to walk out, but he stopped himself once he heard the moderators announce the next candidate, Ted Cruz.

Cruz walked out, and Carson stayed put as a stage manager tried to wave Carson on stage. He didn’t move. Donald Trump then walked up next to Carson as his name was called, but also stopped next to Carson.

Marco Rubio was called up next, walking past both Trump and Carson onto the stage, as did Jeb Bush. John Kasich initially didn’t make it out onto the stage at all.

The moderators thought they were done. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates.”

But they weren’t. “Dr. Ben Carson, please come out on the stage. He’s standing there, as well. Dr. Carson.

“And Donald Trump,” they added.

Then Carson chimed in. “I can introduce Kasich?”

“Yes, yes, we’re going to introduce Ohio governor John Kasich,” the moderators said.

All that was missing from the botched introductions was the candidates colliding with each other and falling all over the stage. Keystone Cops style (that’s for you, Mitt Romney). This hilarious mess didn’t quite make the endless hours of blah blah that followed tolerable.

Then there was this bit of absolute weirdness at the debate:

Science fiction. Chris Christie attacked Marco Rubio for giving the same canned speech every time, no matter what the question. Rubio responded by giving the exact same speech he had just given. Later in the debate, Rubio did it again, word for word. And then again.

It was like a sci-fi movie where a robot is running for President and the mission is to push him to the point of meltdown. The only way we did know that Rubio was not a robot is that later on he began to sweat. Aha!

Or maybe it was like The Manchurian Candidate, where Christie would show Rubio the Queen of Diamonds from a deck of cards, and Rubio would walk off stage in a hypnotic trance.

Comedy. Bernie Sanders went on Saturday Night Live with his doppelganger Larry David. SNL concocted a bit in which Larry David was the captain of a Titanic-type ship that was sinking. The captain was trying to jump ahead of the women and children getting into the lifeboats. Bernie appeared on deck as a radical immigrant who had had “Enough! Enough!” of the privileged one-percent pushing ordinary people around. The happy ending is that the ship has hit not an iceberg but the Statue of Liberty. Bernie did a charming and self-effacing job of delivering his lines with comic gusto.

Why Do Some Republicans and Democrats Hate Voting?

Profiles in Courage
With the news that some Republican Senators (including presidential hopefuls like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio)  plan to filibuster new gun control legislation, thus avoiding any votes on the proposed restrictions, it is now clear: Some current Republicans—and some Democrats—hate voting.

The evidence is mounting. During the 2012 elections, there were numerous instances of Republican legislatures and officials adding voter requirements, reducing voting hours, etc., which made it more difficult or frustrating to vote. The intent was to suppress Democratic votes; the evidence of that might be considered circumstantial, except that Republican strategists, arrogantly or stupidly, told us that it was their intention.

As was pointed out during the election, voter suppression has a long and inglorious history in America. Suppression of black voting was an art form in the South, though nominally the party lines were seemingly different. At the depth of Jim Crow, the South was Democratic. (In modern terms, though, these were DINOs—Democrats in Name Only. These Southern Democrats were different, and after living for a while as Dixiecrats, they underwent political reassignment surgery and became Republicans.)

The latest manifestation of this antipathy to voting is in the U.S. Senate, legendary and self-proclaimed “greatest deliberative body in the world.” (Be respectful; stop laughing.) Filibusters are an integral part of the Senate. When a Senator or group of them wanted to prevent a vote, he or they would have to hold the floor, and talk until they dropped or had to use the bathroom, or until the bill’s proponents gave up—as seen in the movies, most famously Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and as seen in the attempts to block civil rights legislation in the 1960s. That all changed with a new Senate rule, promulgated a few years ago by Democratic Senators, allowing Senators to block a vote by simply saying that there would be no vote. There is no vote unless 60 Senators agree. And no Senator—setting aside Rand Paul’s recent talking filibuster stunt—needs to even stand up and talk, or even appear on the floor at all.

To understand why it is so important not to vote, we have the cautionary tale of some high profile Democrats. Congressional votes are not just a problem at the next election; they can come back to haunt you years later. In 1996, many Democrats voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, signed it. DOMA came before the Supreme Court this week, which served as an uncomfortable reminder to those Democrats that times—and the party line—have changed. The briefs in the case included a mea culpa from some of those legislators, and just last week, Hillary Clinton released a strangely dark and dour video confessing her evolution on the question of marriage equality (Bill had previously apologized).

Even worse problems dogged Democrats who in 2003 enthusiastically voted for the Iraq War. Besides John Kerry’s “for it before I was against it” election year explanation, the war’s anniversary last week left some of them in a “what was I thinking?” mode.

What they were thinking during the Iraq War vote, and during the DOMA vote, was: I am a person of conscience, but that conscience will do no good if I lose this seat, so I have to ask just how this will play back home. The answer for both DOMA and the Iraq War, under the circumstances of the moment, was: not very favorably.

The lesson for some: Whether it is voting at the polls or voting in the Senate, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and sometimes less is more, and sometimes less voting is just better.

In the case of the ballot box, trying to suppress voting is un-American. In the case of standing up and being counted in the Senate, not voting is a dereliction of duty since, as a Senator, that’s your job.

On the other hand, those who fight and run away live to fight another day. That’s how the saying goes. The primary part of that, though, is that you at least fight in the first place. If all you do is run away by, say, not voting, it’s all about survival, and not about conscience and accountability. You may win an election, you may even get to be President. But if you’re thinking about being in the next volume of Profiles in Courage, don’t bother looking for your name.

The VP Guessing Game: Too Much Is Never Enough

Come on, political junkies, admit it: You say you’ve had enough of the Republican VP speculation, but like that bag of barbecue potato chips, you kind of hope it never ends.

Character is destiny, and the character of this Republican nominating process has been so wacky that you would expect nothing less from the Vice Presidential selection.

We are beyond “you can’t tell the players without a program,” so if you haven’t kept up, here’s where we stand, as best as anyone can tell.

The supposed short list of possibilities includes Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman and, lately talked about, Paul Ryan.

The list of those speculated about but almost certainly not to be picked is long, and even longer if you include never-going-to-happen-in-a-million-years names such as Newt Gingrich. This season, it’s not so much an insult not to be picked as it is not to be included in the longshot list. Herman Cain deserved to have somebody floating his name.

In between are those who have or had a colorable chance of being picked, though they aren’t on the short list. Chris Christie appears to be out, since he will be giving the keynote address at the convention. From a spectator’s perspective this is too bad: with Biden and Christie as the designated loyal-to-the-death hitmen, this could have been a battle for the ages.

Marco Rubio is a strange case. Some polls show him as the preference of Republican and Republican-leaning voters, though this probably has more to do with name-recognition than anything else. Rubio is viewed as flawed in terms of experience, maturity, baggage and positions, which overweigh any Latino advantage.

Back to the top three, every day brings a different leader—kind of like the much-missed days of the Republican primaries. Just within the past few days, Ryan is being pushed as the true conservative with some real public appeal. Portman is viewed as boring, but solid and from Ohio, two real pluses. Pawlenty has governing experience, but proved in his brief Presidential run that he may lack the right stuff, or even the just okay stuff.

Strategically, it is thought that the selection will come this week. The Romney campaign doesn’t so much need a game changer as a topic changer. It needs a second candidate who can start fighting right now. And it needs to end the polarizing that is now developing around the selection among Republicans, and particularly conservatives.

Everybody is never happy with the selection of a VP candidate. In close nominating contests, the second place finisher is a politically logical choice, so complaints are muted. That’s how we get Kennedy-Johnson and Reagan-Bush. (And when dynamics trump political logic, how we don’t get Obama-Clinton.)

But there is no mandated logic to this VP pick. The longer this goes on, the more the factions will feel free to push their own ideas about what’s best for the ticket and the party. And the more that goes on, the deeper will be the disappointment when the choice is actually, finally made.

Of the top three, any prediction is subject to change in fifteen minutes.

Portman is undynamic, and there is no proof that his selection will “deliver” Ohio. He is haunted by the ghost of an Administration and budgets past. It is an invitation to bring George W. Bush to the convention he is not attending. If Portman is asked whether prosecuting two wars while offering tax breaks is sound budgeting, and whether that contributed to economic instability, he is stuck. If he says yes, he puts into question his role as Bush’s budget chief; if no, his credibility is at stake, since even some Republicans have concluded that the Bush budget was a bad idea that made things worse.

Ryan is instead haunted by the ghost of budgets future, specifically the proposed budget that bears his name. Some Republican pundits have openly said this is a good thing, since the budget should be a central issue, and Ryan will do a better job than Mitt Romney explaining, defending and promoting that budget. That may be the case, given Romney’s unwillingness to be specific about budget issues, other than his general support for…the Ryan budget. Ryan, despite being the most dynamic and appealing of the three, also shares Portman’s lack of elected executive experience.

Pawlenty is more dynamic than Portman, less than Ryan. He has executive experience as governor of Minnesota. His brief run for the Republican nomination was far from stellar, especially given the strange lineup of competitors. Set aside the clichéd test of whether you can see the VP taking over if needed. Set aside all the political calculations, including those above. Just picture the team taking that stagecoach down the home stretch, Romney driving, someone else riding shotgun. For the moment, that someone else looks like Tim Pawlenty.

At least for the next fifteen minutes.

Note: The illustration above is a photo of Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, who served President Woodrow Wilson from 1913-1921. As a matter of political and historical trivia (for junkies who use both), Marshall was the last President or Vice President with facial hair; the last such President was William Howard Taft, who preceded Wilson in office. Almost a hundred years without a mustache or beard in an Administration explains the real reason that Herman Cain did not go further in the process: it wasn’t Pokemon, it was his mustache.